Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger became a household name last January 15th when he landed U.S. Airlines flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River despite losing power minutes after takeoff. All 155 passengers and crew, including a baby, were saved. The man known as “Sully” became an instant hero.
The year ended with another airline story. This time there was another hero, an unlikely passenger by the name of Jasper Schuringa. The Dutch passenger jumped on “Underwear Bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, after the 23-year-old student allegedly tried to detonate explosives he had hidden in his crotch, as Northwest Airlines flight 253 was on its descent into Detroit. The 289 passengers and crew were safe, although shaken up.
The media jumped on the “Underwear Bomber” story, making it the biggest story of 2009. Of course, that's because the Christmas Day incident was the last major story of the decade. It didn't hurt that after a few days of waffling on the subject, the Obama Administration admitted lapses in national security.
President Obama blamed “human and systemic” failures for the terror attempt. Then Dick Cheney burst back onto the scene and blamed Obama for “pretending we are not at war.” It should be noted that Obama just sent 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and the U.S. military has taken out more terrorists in 2009 with unmanned Predator drones and other strikes than in any year of the Bush Administration.
The fact that the Nigerian “Underwear Bomber” was trained in Yemen and was on a terrorist watch list (but not on the no-fly list) is a little unnerving. Also troubling is that his actions should have set off alarms at the two airport checkpoints prior to entering the U.S. He paid $3,000 cash, had no luggage, and was dressed for a trip to Southern California, not Detroit. I'm not saying that we should use racial profiling, but it seems odd that the guy wasn't pulled aside at any checkpoint.
More troubling in the discussion of airplane security is the fact that it is up to the public, and not trained law enforcement, to be in charge of apprehending suspects. The near-disaster brought back memories of 9/11, when passengers joined together to foil one airliner from reaching its destination, the White House. They all died, but they died as heroes.
What is the head of the Transportation Security Administration doing to prevent further attacks? Nothing, because the TSA is still waiting for leadership as the Republican party has blocked President Obama's nomination, former FBI agent and security expert Erroll Southers. The TSA is an important part of national security and has been politicized to the point of having no power to do anything. The Republicans are blaming Obama for taking too long to appoint someone to fill the post. Obama nominated Southers in September. South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint has been the major obstacle to nominating a TSA chief. The TSA is the division of Homeland Security that oversees airport security, but DeMint is concerned that Southers might let TSA screeners join a labor union. DeMint called the failed bombing attempt a “perfect example of why the Obama Administration should not unionize the TSA.” He claims unionization of TSA workers would give the “union bosses” the power “to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports.”
In between airline stories, there were other highlights in 2009. The historic inauguration of Obama, on a cold day in January, brought more than a million people to the National Mall in Washington D.C., to witness the swearing in of the 44th President of the United States. “We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” Obama said in his inaugural address. It may not be all that original, but Obama's oratorical skills made it possibly the sound bite of the year, except, of course, for the unusual breach of Congressional decorum when Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” during a speech to Congress in September. Wilson blurted out his famous line immediately after Obama said, “There are those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal aliens. This too, is false. The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” So much for health care reform.
The economy went from bad to worse to a little better. Sarah Palin cashed in on her memoir “Going Rogue” as most Americans were going broke. President Obama continued Bush's policies of bailing out failed banks and the auto industry. The swine flu, renamed H1N1, was deemed a major pandemic, but most of us are still waiting to see what all the hype was about. As the news media were fixated on two wars and a cratering economy, a little political scandal seemed to come as a breather.
Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, saw his presidential ambitions go up in smoke as he made national news by disappearing after telling aides he was going for a hike on the Appalachian Trail on June 18th. He surfaced six days later, saying that he actually had been in Argentina “with his soul mate.” The media went wild... Until Michael Jackson died a few days later.
The news of Michael Jackson's untimely death at the age of 50 caught the media by surprise, but they stayed with the story, even delving into Anderson Cooper's discovery of Jackson's old friend Bubbles the Chimp, whom he dressed in matching clothes and taught to do the “moonwalk”. Bubbles has been found living in retirement in Florida.
From “Balloon Boy” to Tiger Woods, pop culture news gave Americans a respite from the actual horrors of two wars and the global economic catastrophe. Carrie Prejean went from first runner-up in the Miss USA 2009 beauty pageant to media star when she famously objected to same-sex marriage in favor of “opposite marriage”.
While we've all been trying to figure out how our government gets anything done, as the health care reform bill passed in the House and got torn apart in the Senate, President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, and everyone scratched their heads wondering why.
As the symbol of economic excess, Bernie Madoff, is serving 150 years for bilking investors of millions of dollars, the economy is slowly making its way back. Cash For Clunkers was supposed to be a much-needed boost to the auto industry, but overall sales fell over 25%. General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection.
After hijacking the news media for much of the year, the Michael Jackson story ended on a fitting note. As the year wrapped up, it was announced that the “Thriller” video has been added to the film archives of the Library of Congress, the first music video to be so honored.
“And that's the way it was...”
-Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)